front porch flimflam
Flimflam /ˈflɪm.flæm/: n. Talk that intends to deceive ... v. To swindle or dupe
Let's begin at the end: On Nov. 2, 2022, lauded and praised Vermont social media network and online community platform Front Porch Forum – self-described "essential civic infrastructure" and supported by individual donors, businesses, and government spending all across the state – terminated my household from its service.
The one-paragraph short version: I was a contributor to conversations in my community, submitting posts that were seen and then published by Front Porch Forum. Then one day, Front Porch Forum blocked my ability to even submit a post for publication. A week later, FPF terminated my account, and also my wife's account because of her association with me. The for-profit corporation Front Porch Forum, and presumably its Burlington-based co-founder and CEO Michael Wood-Lewis, decided we shouldn't be a part of the Montpelier community – even though many people in our community were grateful that I was willing to raise challenging topics with community members.
What kinds of things did I write about on Front Porch Forum? I spoke up FOR the planet and all living animals, plants, and other beings; I spoke up AGAINST White supremacy, settler colonialism, and the dominant culture; I spoke up FOR public health and doing what each of us can do to keep everyone – everyone – safe and healthy during an ongoing global pandemic. I wrote about how the need for solutions to a "child care" crisis ignores the fact that a system that has created a need for "child care" is THE crisis. The common thread? Challenging the choices that humans have made, and the stories that have been told, and asking for different choices to be made and for the full story to be told.
And then Front Porch Forum said I wasn't allowed to raise those topics, or any others, in my community any longer.
Public-facing FPF is one thing. Private FPF another. People, many of whom are FPF donors, believe FPF is an open and free place to engage with their community in a variety of ways. FPF says that's what it's for. News stories promote that image. In reality, FPF staff is deciding how communities across the state engage, what members of a community can engage, and what those people can discuss as a community.
This is a story about a for-profit Vermont corporation that operates out of Burlington but has a presence in every community in the state and is not only actively oppressing people in, and excluding people from, Vermont's communities, but also actively deceiving Vermont citizens and taxpayers, Vermont government officials and agencies at all levels, and Vermont business owners about what it is, what it exists to provide for those groups, why it deserves their financial support, and how it operates.
Governments use FPF, sometimes with taxpayer money, to keep the public informed, and they point community members to FPF to stay up to date. Yet FPF gets to cut community members off from that information. Businesses pay to advertise on FPF. But what FPF doesn't tell those businesses is that it controls the advertisers' reach by making decisions about who has access to FPF. This is not how it works when businesses or governments advertise or share information online, in newspapers, TV, radio, and elsewhere. Nearly all of which have open access – even subscription-based outlets can also be purchased daily, or read in a library, or seen or heard at a restaurant, or retail business, or someone else's house or car, etc. The media outlet itself doesn't prevent the public readers, viewers, or listeners from being able to access the content. FPF can, and does. Is that a good investment for businesses? For governments? For individual donors?
In the end, I want the story to be told because I believe that people should know the truth. That is all. There is no other purpose. I am asking nothing of anyone but to hear the story. What happens after that is not up to me. It's up to you.